Lake Norman & Mooresville

Boat rental laws studied

The Lake Norman Marine Commission might decide next month to enforce stricter rules on the lake than state law, according to commissioners.

Commissioner John Marino said the charter boat committee has been looking at how to improve lake safety since July and is expected to give its recommendations to the commission in September.

Marino said he suggested the special study in light of high-profile accidents earlier this year.

During the annual Lake Bash, on June 25 in a Mooresville cove, Dennis Franklin Allen was driving a 24-foot rental motorboat that ran over a passenger who had jumped out to swim in Lake Norman. The victim, 25-year-old Deondra Scott, had her arm amputated after her body became entangled in the propeller.

"There have been multiple tragedies on Lake Norman this year because of people coming down and renting a boat and all they have to do is sign for it," said commission chairman Paul Carter. "We're looking into whether there is something that should be done to make the lake safer for everyone."

Current state statute, which went into effect on May 1, 2010, requires any boater under the age of 26 pass a safety course.

Marino said one exception to the law is anyone who rents a boat.

The law requires owners give the renter some basic safety instruction but there is no indication of how long the lesson should be or what material should be covered, he said.

"There are some nebulous areas in that bill," said Marino.

He said he would like to see more concrete language about what kind of safety instruction boaters receive before they can rent a boat.

"We have the wherewithal where we can strengthen any law but we cannot lessen anything that the (N.C. General) Assembly puts forward," he said.

But in order to make any changes, a rule governing Lake Norman must go through a lengthy legislative process. Thus, the current boating season will likely be over before the commission changes any lake rules.

In the meantime, Carter recommends every boater - regardless of age - take a safety instruction course.

Not only are they inexpensive, but they also teach boaters valuable lessons such as what the lights on a boat mean at night and what to do when two boats are approaching at right angles vs. head-on.

"The commission is not interested in eliminating rental boats," said Carter. "We're just trying to do everything we can to have a lake that is safe and enjoyable for all interested parties."

The Lake Norman Marine Commission's next public meeting will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Charles Mack Citizens Center, 215 N. Main St., Mooresville.